detailed and intricate, in one word, Byzantine; but sea fish was one of the few resources that did notcome within its scope.
While quantitative data are lacking, in qualitative terms the sources at our disposal can tell us agood deal about ancient fish stocks in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. First, species. Whatspecies were present? The data pertaining to this question are in fact quite detailed. One needs onlyto consult one of the two standard handbooks on the subject, d’Arcy Thompson’s
Glossary of Greek Fishes
to appreciate the range and detail of ancient fishnomenclature, reflecting the detailed knowledge of ancient fishermen and the vast number of references to fish and fishing that are scattered throughout classical literature.
For a general impression of ancient fisheries and fish stocks, the best starting-point is the
of Oppianus, written in the late second century AD. The
is a didactic poem of more than3,000 hexameters, preserved in its entirety and supplemented by an ancient prose paraphrase whichthough only partially preserved helps us to decipher the somewhat intricate poetic language of thepoem itself. The recent been edition by Fritz Fajen with a German translation is in many respects animprovement on the older edition of A.W. Mair in the Loeb series.
Oppian’s book is no first-hand report, rather a digest of second-hand and third-hand information,but it provides us with an overview of migration routes, seasonal variations, and other aspects of direct interest to HMAP. If one were to try and locate the literary references of d’Arcy Thompson or Strömberg on a map of the Mediterreanean and correlate them with the information given byOppian and in the
of the Elder Pliny, it might provide us with a good impression of which fish species were present where and at what time. It is a quite simple exercise that, to myknowledge, has not been attempted so far.So far, I have considered only surces purporting or attempting to describe the contemporarysituation, i.e. the state of fishing in the writer’s own lifetime or the recent past. I have ignored thosethat are “historical” in the strict sense, i.e. those that purport to tell us about
fishing or comparepast conditions to those of the writer’s time. On the face of it, such evidence may seem highlyuseful; in fact it is, however, largely anecdotal and, at best, based on second or third handinformation, hearsay and the writer’s own memory. Furthermore, there is the problem of what we
See, e.g., Franz Dölger,
Beiträge zur Geschichte der byzantinischen Finanzverwaltung besonders des 10. und 11.Jahrhunderts
, Stuttgart: Teubner, 1927, esp. pp. 12ff.
d’Arcy Wentworth Thompson,
A Glossary of Greek Fishes
, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947; ReinholdStrömberg,
Studien zur Etymologie und Bildung der griechischen Fischnamen
, Gothenburg: Wettergren and Kerber,1943
Tryphiodorus, with an English translation by A.W. Mair (Loeb Classical Library), London:Heinemann, 1927; Oppianos,
, edited and translated by Fritz Fajen, Stuttgart: Teubner, 1999.